Almost everyone has seen the slabs of rubber lying alongside, and sometimes on, the highway that mark the location where a truck tire failed. In these incidents the tread (rubber) separates from the wheel, which remains attached to the truck's axles. Although much rarer, there are cases where the entire wheel (tire and wheel assembly / mounting rim) become detached from the axle. When this happens, detached wheels have been known to travel several hundred feet before coming to rest! To get an idea of what a wheel separation looks like if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, take a look at this video.
In this post the commercial trucking accident lawyer at The Doan Law Firm will review two fatal accidents involving detached wheels that occurred within a month and whose circumstances were strikingly similar.
The Accident Details
On April 3rd at about 7:30 a.m. Ben Campbell, a polygraph specialist with the Maine State Police, pulled onto the shoulder of southbound I-95 near Coldbrook Road to assist the driver of a disabled vehicle. While Campbell was standing beside his vehicle, two wheels detached from a passing log hauler tractor-trailer. One of the wheels struck Campbell, who died from multiple injuries shortly after arriving at Eastern Maine Medical Center.
According to a Maine State Police spokesman, the log truck driver stopped as soon as he realized what had happened. The truck is one of two owned by a local owner-operator who was driving at the time of the accident. A records check revealed that the owner-operator had no significant history with either state or federal regulators. The tractor-trailer was impounded and will undergo forensic testing to determine what caused the wheels to detach.
On March 5th, three students from Tulane University were traveling east on Interstate-10 when they pulled into a rest area just north of Gautier MS. As they were returning to their car, a pair of wheels separated from the left rear of tractor-tanker that was traveling west. The wheels crossed the highway median and entered the rest area via its eastbound return lane before striking the students' vehicle. Margaret Mauer, a 21-year-old senior at Tulane majoring in evolutionary biology and ecology, died at the scene but her companions suffered only minor injuries.
The tanker driver left the highway at the next exit and returned to the area, where he learned of Ms. Maurer's death. He cooperated with the investigating officers, and a records check revealed that his driving record revealed no significant violations. The tanker unit was impounded for detailed inspection by the Mississippi State Police.
What causes a wheel separation?
Wheel separations from big trucks are rare. While it is far too early for Maine investigators to have reached a conclusion regarding the more recent accident, the Mississippi State Police are all but certain they have found the cause of the wheel separation that killed Margaret Mauer: someone neglected to install a $3 part called a locking washer.
On big trucks, locking washers are used to help stabilize the large "lug nuts" that secure the wheel assembly to the axle. According to local news sources, as well as the popular trucker's website CDLife.com, when inspectors "unpacked" the wheel assembly, only one locking washer was found rather than the expected two. This, of course, raises the question of why only one locking washer? We believe that the answer may be tragically simple: someone forgot to install it the last time the tire/wheel assembly unit was serviced.
Who is responsible if I'm injured in a wheel separation accident?
Since truck drivers don't change their own tires, improper tire maintenance will likely occur at either the trucking company's own maintenance shops or at shop located near major highways if a problem develops "on the road." Since the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires trucking companies to maintain a record of each commercial vehicle's maintenance history, it is relatively easy for our law firm to obtain those records. We can then combine those records with other information such as accident reports, expert opinions, and computer-enhanced accident reconstruction to prove what caused your accident and who was responsible for your injuries.
As you can imagine, obtaining all the necessary documents and reports necessary to prove negligence in a commercial trucking accident case can be expensive in both cost and in the time required to obtain the records you would need. At our firm, we understand that very few accident victims have the resources to effectively challenge a big commercial trucking corporation in court.
This is why, when you contact The Doan Law Firm your case review and consultation with our commercial truck accident lawyer are always free of charge and do not obligate you to hire our firm as you legal counsel. Should you later decide to file a lawsuit, we are willing to assume full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for a percentage of the final settle we will win for you.